Cultural Exchange

Thanksgiving Tips for Au Pairs

Experiencing American holidays is one of the best parts of being on a cultural exchange program.  

On the fourth Thursday of November you’ll celebrate Thanksgiving. You’ve probably heard stories or seen movies that showed families celebrating Thanksgiving together. You might be thinking, ‘That food looks strange’ or ‘Why do Americans watch football on this day?’ We want to give you some tips for getting the most out of this ultra-American holiday:

  • Thanksgiving originated in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists (or “Pilgrims) and the Wampanoag (also known as Native Americans) shared an autumn harvest feast. You can learn more about the history of this holiday here. Nowadays, Thanksgiving remains a day where families and friends get together in gratitude. You may be asked to share about something you’re grateful for as part of the conversation during dinner. You can probably think of many things, especially as an au pair this year!
  • It’s tradition to eat a big meal on Thanksgiving. Here are some things you’ll likely see on the dinner table: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie just to name a few. The food may look weird and unfamiliar to you, but try it all!  Jacqueline, an au pair from Brazil, said, “At first everything was strange, and I didn’t think I would like anything. But, it became my favorite meal in this country since then.”  
A large Thanksgiving meal! Image courtesy of user Famartin via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Don’t be shy to share your culture. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of cultural exchange, with the Native Americans teaching the Pilgrims how to hunt and find local fruits like grapes and cranberries. In return, the Pilgrims introduced English crops like cabbage and carrots to the menu. Let that be even more of a reason to add some authentic El Salvadorian pupusas to your host family’s appetizer spread, or a delicious Italian tiramisu to the dessert selection. Jacqueline said, “My host kids love when I make brigadeiro, a typical Brazilian dessert”. 
  • Many American families watch NFL football on Thanksgiving Day. The NFL has been playing football games on Thanksgiving Day since 1934. Two teams who almost always play on this day are the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
  • You might also want to tune into the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It’s been a tradition in New York City since 1924 and is broadcast across the country. Ask your host family what channel you can watch the parade on Thanksgiving morning. If you’re close to Manhattan, you may want to go watch it in person!
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! Image courtesy of Anthony Quintano via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Although not exactly part of Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a big day for sales. It usually begins on Thanksgiving night. Many host parents will have the Friday after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) off from work and they may want to do some holiday shopping. Be sure to ask what your schedule will be on Black Friday before making your shopping plans! 

Whether you’re celebrating with your host family or new friends, be sure to make it a day to remember. Try new foods, watch new sports, check out the parade, and share what you’re thankful for this year! And remember that Thanksgiving is just the beginning of the holiday season in the USA! Read about other holiday traditions that you may be unfamiliar with.

Marisa Lonic

Marisa is a lover of all things cultural exchange. She and her family have hosted au pairs from Brazil, Germany, Colombia, Spain, and Ecuador. As a mom of four and the founder of Mama Work It, she helps working moms juggle mom life, work life, spouse life, fill in the blank life through her books, courses and coaching programs.